Potter-ville – House Rules, part 1

Every version of Cortex Plus does such a tremendous job of capturing the feel of the licenses, from mechanics simulating literary and dramatic devices through to the naming structures and conventions.  For Harry Potter, we have the four Houses of Hogwarts that look primed to be transformed into game statistics, so in this post, let’s take a look into how we might achieve that.

Surveying Houses

English: Alternate coat of arms of Hogwarts sc...

CC Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 license via Wikipedia

The first instinct may be to view Houses as a straight adaptation of Smallville’s Drives (Duty, Justice, Glory, Love, Power, Truth) and there are certainly strong ties with the Houses of Hogwarts:  Power fits the ambitious nature of Slytherin; Love seems apt for Hufflepuff.  Taking this route, we should note that each House has several qualities that are found desirable, so using them as Drives needs to allow for broader use than the Smallville attributes.

Alternatively, we could go with eight Drives, with two assigned to each House, although this has the potential to get a little unwieldy with so many dice assignments.  A second option would be to have only one Drive mapping directly onto the Houses, but having two descriptive statements for each, giving more scope for both following those Drives and Challenging them.  It may however be difficult to come up with two descriptors for each House when you are only “assigned” to one, so a middle ground may be to have two statements for your own House and just the one for each of the others.

Is this the route we will take with our Potter hack?  Well, taking a look through the books and various wiki resources, it seems that the Houses present a way of approaching situations in addition to character traits (Ravenclaws use creativity and wit; Gryffindors adopt courage and chivalry).  With this in mind, Houses as a game statistic could be thought of as representative of the type of methods employed to achieve your goal.

House Calls

So if we were to take this approach, in what circumstances might each of the “House Stats” be used?  Let’s look at each House and see if we can come up with some examples.

Gryffindor – values courage, bravery, and chivalry.  In our Cortex Plus game, you would roll your Gryffindor die when facing challenges head-on, when refusing to back down, and when acting honourably.

Hufflepuff – values hard work, patience, loyalty, and fair play.  In game, you would roll your Hufflepuff die when persevering or biding your time, when standing by your friends, and when adhering to the spirit of the rules.

Ravenclaw – values intelligence, knowledge, creativity, and wit.  Your Ravenclaw die would be rolled when investigating and researching, acting on knowledge you possess, and when attempting to outsmart your opposition.

Slytherin – values cunning, ambition, leadership, and resourcefulness.  Roll Slytherin when attempting to be sneaky, when employing misdirection, or attempting to gain the advantage.

Slytherin ≠ Evil

Just because Minerva McGonagall can get cheered for electing to throw one quarter of the school into the dungeons doesn’t mean you need to follow suit in your game!  Cunning and ambition are not of themselves evil traits, and it should never be a case of “you’re doing something bad, so roll your Slytherin die”.

Instead, look at the “how” and the “why” of the action: if someone looks to harm another as a means of meting out justice, that’s more appropriate for a roll of Gryffindor, or perhaps Hufflepuff if seeking revenge for a friend or loved one; disregard of the well-being or safety of others in pursuit of knowledge is still a Ravenclaw roll, however callous and cold such a goal may be.

Likewise, heroic actions can use the Slytherin die, and we frequently see Harry and Hermione utilise their cunning and resourcefulness to overcome obstacles throughout the series (Ron possibly less so, although he too has his moments).  Harry does after all possess all the traits that could have placed him in Slytherin… except for his desire to be sorted there.

Dice Distribution

If we were to have the four Houses as one of our primary game statistics, we then have the question of how to distribute dice; we’ll leave aside the steps on a Pathway chart for the moment (a custom chart or two will be the subject of upcoming blog posts) and just look at the die sizes.

InSmallville, we have 6 Values starting at d4 and with 9 steps to assign between them, working out as 1.5 steps per attribute.  If we applied that to the 4 Houses, it suggests we might want 6 increases to allot.  Some example distributions would be d6/d6/d8/d8, d6/d6/d6/d10, and d4/d6/d6/d12.  To me that looks like a nice balance: to be really focused in one area, you have to be particularly lacking in at least one other, but still allows for a fairly even middle ground.


So, what are your thoughts on this so far?  Are there any actions characters could undertake that you feel couldn’t be modelled under the rules described?  Am I being too stingy spreading the dice among the statistics?  For the next post, we’ll look further into using Houses as statistics and how me might apply the descriptive statement ideas from Smallville, so if there’s anything you’d like to see covered, leave a comment below or drop a mail to infinity_craig [at] talktalk [dot] net

About craggle

Despite being born tone deaf in one ear, Craig has risen above his disadvantage to achieve the lofty position of spending most of his free time mucking around on the Internet, tinkering with RPG rules, and failing on at least seven occasions to finish writing a novel.
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7 Responses to Potter-ville – House Rules, part 1

  1. Kelsey says:

    I’ve never played Smallville, but it sounds like this would work pretty perfectly! It sounds really sweet actually!

  2. I don’t know if you’ve read the Watchtower Report or not (and if you haven’t, you should, it’s great for hacking suggestions).
    To me, I’d think the best way to deal with this is to do the ‘iconic’ values method. That is, have a set of values that all the characters would have, but then have a single iconic value that is different than the others.
    In this case, you could have five of the Smallville values, but then replace one of them (say, Duty) with the House name, which would be say, doing something in service to your House?

    I suppose my main objection is that belonging to a particular House should mean a bit more.

    • see, in my head I like the four value layout because your highest value decides which House you end up in. Whereas for Harry, he might have been D6 Hufflepuff, D6 Ravenclaw, D8 Griffindor and D8 Slytherin, so it was harder for the hat to decide.

      • Adam says:

        Great point there Joe. That’s a fun bit of interpretation.

        It also creates the interesting situation of your values possibly changing through long-term play and end up sharing values with a House to which you don’t officially belong. Of course if you’re embodying your House values, it should probably stay on top.

        All that is assuming these values can shift over time, which they may not.

      • you could also do a bonus, after sorting, for your house. Perhaps the value of your chosen house automatically goes up a step or 2 after you are sorted.

      • Reverance Pavane says:

        Nope, I think you should go with your original idea Joseph rather than granting a bonus. I think it nicely raises the tension when you don’t quite fit the perfect mould of your house, but for whatever reason (perhaps family tradition or friends). After all, it is established that the sorting hat does respond to desire as well. Without any strong desire, the young Potter* would have gone to Slytherin, and probably (other considerations aside*) been quite successful there.

        Of course the advantage of being a member of a specific house is that you’ll probably find it easier to bring out that trait, purely from the people (and house traditions around you). Thus as Potter continues through Hogwarts, his Gryffindor trait increases, giving him the courage, honour, and duty he needed to face down He Who Shall Not Be Named.

        [* You could argue that Potter has d10 Slytherin (due to his leadership potential) and probably d4 Ravenclaw (not as smart as he thinks he is). which has the nice advantage of given each house a separate die for trait.

  3. Brilliant! As usual, you hit the nail on the head Craig! I actually think your numbers are spot on, I think that any more dice and it would feel unbalanced to me. Especially for students.

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